Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Calling Chris Caldwell

The preeminent American journalist covering and writing on Western Europe, Christopher Caldwell, has written an important piece in the Weekly Standard - here - on why Dutch society, in thrall to a deadly multiculturalism, finds it difficult if not impossible to defend its own values in the face of movements which are only too happy to take advantage of its freedoms with the ultimate intent of undermining them. Western Europe faces a long term version of the campaign slogan of the Islamists in Algeria - one election, one time - using elections, free speech, the freedoms of a liberal order to undermine it. (One may recall that this was a Communist strategy as well; it was what Harry Truman and the anti-Communist Democrats confronted in the post-war 1940s when they finally purged the party of the Wallace faction.)

Here is my question for Chris Caldwell. I would have thought that the perfect theatre piece to represent Europe's problem would be the 1950s play by the Swiss playwright Max Frisch, The Firebugs (Biedermann und die Brandstifter). It is a very funny, very noir rendition of a city beset by anarchist arsonists who fully intend to burn the city down. They park themselves in the house of a stolid, but ultimately utterly spineless and pliable, bourgeois gentleman who simply can't say no. He can't say no, can't bear to impolite, and watches, unable to bring himself to interfere, as they assemble the incendiary devices and so on. It's nothing like brainwashing, nothing like the Stockholm syndrome - it's nothing more than Dutch levels of politeness. He recognizes very quickly what is going on, but can't bring himself to name it, and goes through endless comic levels of cognitive dissonance to avoid drawing the conclusion that two plus two really will equal four - with a big explosion. I recall reading it in a high school German class. My incomplete scan of the German and Swiss arts scene does not suggest than anyone remembers the play at all, although I would have thought it a picture perfect rendition of what Caldwell describes. Those of you who cover the German language arts scene - am I wrong? Is Frisch's play being revived?

I am also forwarding this on to the superb English language blog on German affairs, Davids Medienkritik for consultation.

UPDATE: I see that the play has been revived a couple of times in the United States - once in 2002, and again this year, 2004. Read about it here. The play is usually represented as an allegory about Hitler's rise, but it seems to me it works perfectly well as an allegory about any totalitarianism that rises through the bourgeois complacency - nazism, facism, communism, islamofacism. I don't suppose that anyone would be so multiculturally insensitive as to actually revive it as a direct play on islamofacism in Europe - but then one would hardly need to; any audience would get the point, yes?

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